Cool weather greens and bargain perennials get most of the attention, in the fall. Herbs tend to get over-looked, which is odd, since our appetites start getting hardier as the weather cools. Not all herbs are great fall choices, but the 6 I talk about on this week’s podcast will keep your kitchen zesty and help fill in the openings fading vegetable plants leave in the fall. Listen in or scroll down to keep reading.
Despite the return of hot weather, it’s still late in the season and a lot of vegetable plants are fading before our eyes. It’s getting very tempting to start putting the garden to bed, but fall can be a very rewarding season in the vegetable garden. Unlike spring and despite this week’s weather, the days aren’t going to keep getting warmer, so there’s no danger of things bolting. Sure, a frost could put a damper on things, but frost is still a long way off.
Besides the obvious leafy greens, like lettuce, arugula, spinach, and kale, that love cool weather, fall is also a great time for a second planting of some herbs.
Last week I talked about fall bargain sales at nurseries. I hope you’ve already started taking advantage of them. But don’t just look at the perennial tables. There are always a few plants left in the herb section, some are also perennials and others are annuals. Not all herbs like fall’s cooling temperatures, but these 6 will pay you back in big dividends.
❦ Chives – If you already have chives, you know how easy they are to grow. If you don’t, you really should give them a try. Chives are perennials that self-sow – sometimes too much. However you can always control them by cutting the flowers off and eating them. Chives are also one of the few herbs that grow well indoors. Not as well as outdoors, but well enough to snip and use.
❦ Cilantro – This is perhaps the most frustrating herb to grow in the Hudson Valley. It seems to want to go to seed the minute you plant it. Your best bet in the spring is to succession plant cilantro from seed and hope the heat doesn’t last for weeks on end. You can also start it from seed in late summer, for a fall harvest, although you might be able to find seedlings at a nursery that specializes in edibles. Fall’s cooling temperatures forestall the inevitable going to seed.
❦ Mint – Here’s another herb that really comes into its own in cool weather. If you planted your mint in the ground, you probably don’t need to plant any more. But if, like me, you grow it in pots, you might want a new batch after summer’s heat. And if you haven’t grown it at all, I’d recommend picking up a few bargain plants and plopping them in containers to use for the rest of the season. Peppermint and spearmint are the easiest to grow and the hardiest. Mint is perennial, but in containers it will need extra protection. The easiest thing I’ve found to do is to sink the plants, pots and all, into an empty area of the vegetable garden. I’ll lift the pots as soon as the soil thaws in the spring, and the mint will never know it spent winter in a container.
❦ Parsley – Parsley, whether flat leaf or curly, is one tough little plant. Since it’s a biennial, it has little interest in bolting to seed. It can also handle a little frost as well as it does hot, dry weather. But it seems to be one of those edibles that sweetens with cool weather. You can usually find plants at any time of year. They’ll last well into fall, but don’t be fooled by the green leaves you’ll see next spring. Parsley will overwinter, but as a biennial, it will quickly get bitter and go to seed. Expect to start new plants next year.
❦ Sage – Sage is one of the few herbs that is truly evergreen in my Hudson Valley garden. I often brush snow off my plants, for Christmas dinner. Common culinary sage is the hardiest for me, although golden and purple sage do almost as well. I have a tougher time with tir-color sage, but I don’t like that as much for cooking anyway. You may get some winter die-back, but you’ll want to prune your plants back in the spring anyway, so keep new tender leaves filling in.
❦ Thyme – Thyme comes in only second to sage, for winter hardiness. Once again, the common (vulgaris) variety seems to be the toughest variety, but a little mulch protection could get the flavored varieties through a winter, especially if there’s some snow cover. I’ve kept lemon thyme going for a few years, but thyme doesn’t seem to be a long lived perennial anyway. Which is why it makes a nice fall crop. You get to enjoy it with your hearty fall vegetables, maybe even harvest it throughout winter and have a head start in the spring.
I’m not a big fan of bringing herbs indoors. Few of us have the ideal growing conditions inside and besides, it disrupts the natural cycle of the plants. Even a perennial needs a rest. But I’m not above stretching the season and even more inclined to do so if it gives me a leg up on next season. So if you’re looking for something to fill in those increasing blank spaces in the vegetable garden, take a look at these 6 herbs.